Woof Wednesday: What Is Old & Fetching Fools

My Facebook friend (and real life friend, too!) Elaine replied yesterday when I asked for suggestions for future blog topics. “How to care for an elderly dog. Our dog Goober will be 19 in November,” she said.

Wow, Magic just turned seven. Seren is 16. One is middle aged and the other considered geriatric, and a lot of it has to do with the size of the pet. When our furry friends reach a “certain age” it becomes much more important to stay on top of changes, and just keep ‘em comfy during their golden years.

old dogHow Old is “Old?”

What is considered “old?” There are individual differences between pets, just as there are for people. While one person may act, look and feel “old” at fifty-five, another fifty-five-year-old remains active with a youthful attitude and appearance. Aging is influenced by a combination of genetics, environment, and health care over a lifetime. The oldest dog on record was an Australian Cattle Dog who lived for twenty-nine years and five months.

A good definition of old age for an animal is the last 25 percent of her life. However, we can’t accurately predict what an individual pet’s life span will be, so pinpointing when old age begins is tough. Ask the breeder about the life span of your pet’s parents and grandparents. That’s a good predictor of how long you could expect your cat or dog to live. Mixed-ancestry pets are more difficult to predict, but you can make a few generalities.

MalteseExtended Lifespan

In the past fifty years, the average life span of small dogs has tripled. They used to live to be only six or seven years old, but today it’s not unusual for your Chihuahua to live into late teens or early twenties. With an average potential life span of fifteen to seventeen years, onset of old age—when a little dog becomes “senior”—would be about age eleven to thirteen.

Even large-breed dogs, which age more quickly, commonly reach ten to thirteen years of age—double the life span of the past few decades. They would therefore be considered old starting at about seven years.

Giant breed dogs (those weighing over eighty pounds or so) tend to age more quickly than smaller pets. Great Danes, for example, are considered “senior” at age five, and typically live only seven to nine years. There are exceptions, of course, with some very large dogs living healthy, happy lives well into their teens.

Viszla

Sniffing ability is maintained longer than eyesight or hearing–use it!

Youthful Doggedness?

So you have an old fogey doggy–how do you keep him youthful? What happens when that go-go-go puppy attitude turns into a yen for snoozing the day away? Dogs can become frustrated when their youthful abilities fade away and they’re no longer able to leap tall buildings–or onto sofas–with a single bound, or chase the Frisbee and catch it without effort.

I have one word for you: ACCOMMODATION.

Enrich the dog’s environment and make accommodations for his new skill set. Agility dogs can still perform all those tricks of fetch and vault, just lower the bar a bit. For blind dogs, put a bell inside the ball or scent with liverwurst so his nose knows where to find it. For deaf dogs, you can use hand signals and replace the clicker with a flashlight beam flicking on and off. Those links go to the puppies.about.com site but they apply to adult and older dogs, too–and even cats. Seren is now pretty deaf, so I stomp a foot to warn her before I pet so she’s not startled.

I have a boatload of more tips and advice in the book Complete Care for Your Aging Dog.

Today’s Ask Amy strikes close to home because my Magical-Dawg is a fetching fool. Currently he’s in his prime and has no problem chasing and leaping until  his tongue drags the ground. But since this is Magic’s all-time-favorite-of-them-all (excluding car rides!), I know that FETCH will be a game that helps keep him young even when he’s an old fogey.

Do you have a fetching fool? What about your old dogs–what games do they love? Have you made accommodations for their aging abilities? Please share!

I love hearing from you, so please share comments and questions. Do you have an ASK AMY question you’d like answered–post in the comments. Do you have a new kitten and need answers? Stay up to date on all the latest just subscribe the blog, “like” me on Facebook, check out weekly FREE PUPPY CARE newsletter, and sign up for Pet Peeves newsletter. Stay up to date with the latest book give aways and appearances related to my  THRILLERS WITH BITE!

Comments

Woof Wednesday: What Is Old & Fetching Fools — 12 Comments

  1. Nice post, Amy. I love old dogs – those beautiful gray muzzles always touch my heart. When I used to visit my mother in the nursing home I felt relaxed and peaceful around the senior folks. I think I feel the same way in the presence of senior critters.

    We made many accommodations for Jake as he got older. I still have an array of ramps in the garage – different ones for different cars and different situations. Those ramps represented trips to parks, book signings and visits to friends. They hold the paw prints of a dog who will always be in my heart.

    • Hi Chris, love the sentiment “…hold the paw prints of a dog who will always be in my heart.”

      Glowing paws, at that. *s* Yes, I received your book–THANK YOU! And I choked up with recognition nearly every page, especially the note about favorite toys disappearing…*wiping eyes*

  2. Hi Amy, I’m very lucky with my first Welsh Springer, who lived to be 15. The last five years of her life were hard ones, but until near the end, her tail never stopped wagging and she was always happy to see me. She loved going places with me and loved training and doing tricks, so that’s how I kept her young. In fact, at 14, she went to the tracking tests with me, and just hung out with all of us. She had a good time, and absolutely loved being my driving buddy. Still miss her, but am hoping that young Rosy (3 years old now) will equal her distance in lifespan.

    • Hi Kim, we can learn so much from our special dogs. “…her tail never stopped wagging…” Wow. Just–wow.

      Rosy has some big paws to follow!

  3. We lost our soft-coated Wheaten at age twelve but she never really seemed to age. While her “naps” did become a tad extended, her tail-wagging enthusiasm to be included in everything never waned. We hope to do as well! And, oh man, do we miss her …

    • Oh, a Wheaten! Lovely breed–she sounds like an awesome companion, Patricia. There appears to be a lot of tail-wagging in this thread. That makes me smile!

  4. I fostered an elderly Black Lab a few years ago for what was supposed to be a couple of weeks. She had severe arthritis and many types of tumors in various spots but she had a zest for life and the shelter staff just couldn’t put her down. I wanted to give her last days some fun in my big back yard. She LOVED playing fetch but I threw it fairly close to her so she wouldn’t have to go far and sometimes I threw it right to her. She still loved it. We took walks because she also loved to get out but our walks were short and very slow. And, she really didn’t like car rides but everytime I went toward the car she’d come “running” so I lifter her into the back seat and took her for rides. I think she just wanted to be with me.

    Eleven months later when she eventually gave me the sign I sent her off with my love. It was the most rewarding relationship I’ve ever had with a dog.

    • Oh Andrea, what a lovely experience. What a wonderful thing that you were able to share such special times with her. Thanks so much for posting this.

  5. Great blog as always Amy. My Bear (Shepherd/lab combo) lived 17 or 18 years. (The guy we got him from said he was 2, the vet said 1.) At 5 he developed cataracts and became totally blind. He did not give up playing fetch until he was 13 or 14. All you had to do was bounce the ball and be sure it wasn’t going to run into anything. (We had several collisions in the beginning. My bad!) At 15 he gave up his steel-belted radial tire chew toy. My point is that at 75 to 85 pounds and his sight handicap, he still lived a long and wonderful life. We even went on walks. I was his seeing-eye human. LOL!

    • Hi Vandi, I love that story! Bear must have been a wonderful fellow. Magic is another one that adores balls. Our dogs (and cats) do learn quickly how to compensate for loss of sight. Thanks so much for commenting.